Hockey

Let’s get it out at the top, we don’t miss Eddie Olczyk’s insistence on calling Dominik Kahun “The Big Kahun-a.” Somehow, no one ever bothered to explain to Eddie, or he just never bothered to listen, that “The Big Kahun” would suffice easily. We’ll get the joke. Really, we will. It made it sound like he had indigestion every time he said the goddamn name. Fuckin’ eh hockey people have the worst sense of humor.

Anyway, the Hawks fortunes probably don’t hinge on whether Dominik Kahun is here or not. But if you consider the kind of game the NHL is these days, and the one the Hawks are trying to play in it, what makes more sense? Having a quick, smart forward who is interested and effective in both ends of the ice? Or cashing him in for a slow, not all-all-that-skilled d-man and then having to plug up the forward spot you just vacated with a dumber, slower, less interested and far more expensive player? Not to mention older? You see where this goes.

We know the Hawks figured that with the arrival of Domink Kubalik, that the other Dominik was expendable. Maybe even more so if they had an inkling they could pry Alex Nylander loose. And yet wouldn’t you be happier with Kahun taking Shaw’s shifts right now? He’s certainly more flexible, and less prone to ride on his reputation with the locals to loaf around the offensive zone until it’s time to take an idiotic and lazy penalty.

And conceding that the Hawks knew they’d end up with Nylander would concede that they also had any sort of plan, which is clear they didn’t. If the front office was committed to building a team that can play the way Jeremy Colliton wants to play, and that’s assuming the front office has any idea what their coach is doing, you’d want quicker and more dynamic d-men than you had. Ones that can win the races and play the high-pressure way and not lose their man simply because they can’t keep up or get back to where they need to be quick enough. You wouldn’t go out and get a plodder, much less two of them.

But that’s what the Hawks did. Which smacks of acquiring Maatta simply because he was available without ever considering if he truly fit. Same thing with Calvin de Haan, though they didn’t give up anything of value to do that. Worse yet, both are signed for multiple years, which strangles any flexibility. How do they plan on getting Ian Mitchell and Nicholas Beaudin and even Chad Krys on this roster in the next two seasons?

So where would the Hawks be better off? The $7M they’d have saved by just keeping Kahun, never bothering with Maatta or Shaw? Or this? You tell us which path actually speaks to having a plan and which speaks to throwing shit at a wall? And sure, Kahun will be due a raise after this season, but do you really think he’ll get anywhere close to the $3.9M that Shaw is getting? No, you don’t, because you haven’t been hit by a crowbar recently.

As we figured, Kahun has taken to the Penguins’ system like a dog to peanut butter, simply crushing the competition to the tune of a 57% Corsi and a 62% expected-goals share. He’s been used in the offensive end more often than the Hawks did, to be fair. He’s mostly skated with Jared McCann in The Confluence, and now with Evgeni Malkin back will probably slot into a third-line role which he was built for.

We still find it hard to believe that Jim Rutherford knows what he’s doing. But as GM of one of the three modern forces of the league this decade, he seems to be the only one getting it right. And by some distance. Fleecing the Hawks for Kahun is how you do that.

Hockey

The other dynasty. And one that might be heading the way of the Hawks more than they’d like to admit. It was something of a nothing season in The Burgh, if a 100-point season can be described that way. Maybe it can after the Pittsburgh Penguins turned out to be not much more than cannon fodder for the Islanders in the first round, and promptly rolled over for a team that rolled over to the next one to a team that rolled over for the next one. There doesn’t seem to be much forward momentum with this bunch, and it seems to be about hanging on to what they have. We know how that goes. Will it go that way for the Pens this term?

2018-2019

44-26-12  100 points (3rd in Metro, lost in 1st round to NYI)

3.30 GF/G (6th)  2.90 GA/G (14th)

49.6 CF% (15th)  51.5 xGF% (11th)

24.6 PP% (5th)  79.7 PK% (19th)

Goalies: As it has been, as it will be, the Penguins will trust Matt Murray with the crease. He’s been just about everything in just four seasons, barely, at the top level. He’s been a playoff hero, nothing more than tissue paper, hurt, and then revitalized and he’s barely had time to learn the street (they’re difficult there). He ended last season with a .919, which is more than acceptable, but he went the roundabout way in that he was woeful in October and November last year, then brilliant in December (.950), before evening out in the season’s second half. At 25 and his fourth full season in the NHL, this should be when he enters his prime, and if he does a lot of the other questions about the Penguins seem less daunting. Still, he’s got a clunky month or two in his locker, and this Penguins outfit probably can’t as easily survive those as past ones.

He’ll be backed up by Casey DeSmith, who is a raging piece of shit, but a capable backup as he provided a .916 last year.

Defense: And here is where things get sticky. The Pens will still count on Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin for their top pairing, but Letang has managed a full season of work in one season out of the last eight. He’s 32 now, which is just about the time things turn for a d-man whose game was built on mobility. When he did play last year, he was nearly a point-per-game, and his metrics were glittering again, so it’s unlikely he’s going to fall off a cliff here. But the end does come quickly, as we know around these parts.

Beyond that pairing, they seem serious about running it back with Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson, quite pleased with themselves they got away with using the latter after the trade deadline last season without sending the entire city into the combination of rivers. That won’t work a second time. The kid who could start to take more and more responsibility–and helped pave the way for Olli Maatta‘s immobile ass out of town–Marcus Pettersson, remains unsigned. The Zach Werenski contract should help with that, but the Penguins need him because they can’t seriously give the two monoliths in front of him second pairing minutes.

Justin Schultz is still here, or at least is when everything is attached to him, which isn’t often. He only played 29 games last year, and 63 the year before that. He’s a power play weapon when actually dressed, and provides more swiftness to cover for Johnson or Gudbranson.

If Pettersson and Schultz are healthy, there is a chance for some real spice to this blue line. If they aren’t or Pettersson takes a step back, then Guddy and JJ are going to play far too often and there are going to be guys in Hazmat suits patrolling the Penguins’ defensive zone, no matter how well Murray plays.

Forwards: Interesting group here. It’s always a boon to start with two Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the latter threw up a….well, he just threw up last year. 72 points in 68 games, which is still really good but below what you associate with him. Just 21 goals. the lowest per game mark since the Season In A Can. His metrics also took a hit, and there were a lot of nights where he was either petulant, or too lazy to even be that. He’s 33 now, and while that’s starting to age it shouldn’t be the mark where he turns into something a raccoon gets drunk off of.

The top line will still be Crosby and Jake Guentzel, with other forward to be determined. Phil Kessel and his continual mush of sadness has been shipped off to Arizona, with Alex Galchenyuk coming in return. Neither Montreal or Arizona were able to unlock what seems to be within the American with the Russian name who used to play for the Canadiens, and now it’s a question if it’s there at all (or serious questions about what is).

Another question mark is getting a full season of Nick Bjugstad. All the tools are there to be a dominant power forward, either at center or wing, and yet it’s never happened. Jared McCann seemed to fair a little better in Pittsburgh from Florida, but they’re going to need both of these guys to be more than they’ve been. Dominik Kahun could play himself into top line minutes at times, but is certainly more than enough on a bottom six. Brandon Tanev arrived in the summer to shore up that part of the roster as well. With just a couple pops from guys who haven’t popped before, this could be the usual deep crop of Penguins forwards who never stop that you’re accustomed to. But if guys like Bjugstad and McCann don’t make a move forward and Galchenyuk can’t get his face out of a mirror, then suddenly they look awfully top-heavy again.

Prediction: With Murray, Letang, Dumoulin, Crosby, and Malkin, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Penguins being bad. And if they get some luck in the health department with Schultz, Letang, and get Pettersson in the fold, you could see where they could be really good again. They need guys to do things they’ve never done before up front, but that has happened before in Pittsburgh. Then again, Derick Brassard also happened there, as did others. This is a team that seemingly could be anything. It could win the division, it could slide down into a wildcard fight with a couple injuries and stall-outs in development. They’re Cup-winning days just might be over, but they still might get a say in who does.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Everything Else

I suppose I should rejoice that they’re doing SOMETHING. And the quickness with which it was done lets you know the Hawks know they need to make changes and are urgent to do so. I’m not sure that matters when your changes are wrong.

In case you didn’t see the news, the Hawks traded Dominik Kahun and a 5th round pick this year to Pittsburgh for Olli Maatta. I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. Olli Maatta sucks. He’s sucked for years now, and the only reason anyone would be attracted to him is a first-round draft pedigree that is now seven years old and buried under the dust of underwhelming when not straight-up bad performance. This is how Pierre McGuire would make trades.

Maatta is SUH-LOW. In a league that’s getting faster and for a team that lacks any mobility on the blue line, I guess he’ll fit right in but he doesn’t fix anything. He also can’t make up for it by making plays or the like, as the Hawks could get away with a slow d-man who can at least get the puck out and up to the forwards quickly and crisply. Maatta cannot do that, or at least hasn’t shown he can.

Maatta spent a majority of the season on the Penguins third pairing, which he was eventually punted from when Marcus Pettersson proved to be more useful and after the acquisition of Erik Goddamn Fuck You Gudbranson. That’s right, Erik “If And Italian Beef Shit Were A Hockey Player” Gudbranson was much preferred over Maatta in the playoffs. And before you say, “Well, maybe the coach is an idiot?” remember Mike Sullivan has two rings.

You can at least try and find the pinch-hold that Maatta started an overwhelming amount of his shifts in the defensive zone this year. But his zone-starts weren’t really noticeably worse than Letang’s or Dumoulin’s (the guy the Hawks probably should have been calling about) but his metrics far worse. And in the previous three seasons, Maatta’s zone starts have been more forgiving and his possession numbers are still awful.

Maatta has never managed more than 30 points in the league, so he’s not offensively gifted. He’s not like, an awful passer, but he’s far from a dynamic one.

To add to that, he’s made of duct tape and snot. He’s gone the route of 82 games just once in six seasons, and has missed more than 15 games in a year four times in his six year career.

One more thing, he’s not even that cheap! Maatta makes $4M for the next three seasons, but seems awfully expensive for a third-pairing d-man, which is all Maatta has ever proven to be. Good thing the Hawks already had like, five of those.

And this isn’t some love letter to Dominik Kahun. He’s a useful player that can help a team a lot from the bottom six, but he’s also the type of player you’re supposed to be able to find with regularity. And the Hawks might already have with Dominik Kubalik, any step forward from Dylan Sikura, and possibly a surprise from Phillip Kurashev who I’ve decided to adopt as my guy for really no other reason than my love for Xherdan Shaqiri. Kahun will do well with the Penguins, but the Hawks should be able to plug that hole. You’d hope.

Where Maatta slots is another questions. He’s left-sided, so he’d be best paired with a fast, puck-moving, right-sided d-man. Let me look over who fills out that role for the Hawks. Oh that’s right, fucking no one. Boy, guess we’d better hope Boqvist makes the team out of training camp, huh? Except that Maatta won’t be able to cover for all his booboos in the d-zone. Wonderful. I’m now going to go eat a stainless steal pan.

If this is what the Hawks diagnose as their problem, they’re fucked. If they’re scouting Maatta as the mobility or assuredness they need, they’re fucked. Maatta is a bottom of the roster fix when the top is still emitting noxious fumes. You have to pray this is only the start and not the coup-de-useless.

Otherwise, great trade.

Everything Else

About the only thing wrong that Kahun did this year was nothing to do with him, as Eddie Olczyk insisted on calling him “The Big Kahun-a,” which drove us all to the point of swallowing knives. Maybe Eddie was afraid no one would get the joke, or he thought this was the funnier version, but it would be like Sharks fans calling Joe Pavelski, “The Big Lebowsky But With A Pavel- At The Front Instead Of A Lebow-.” Eddie, everyone gets it. “The Big Kahun” is fine. Good even. Just leave it alone. Anyway, let’s run through it.

Stats

82 games – 13 G – 24 A – 37 P

50.1 CF% (+1.17 Rel)  47.7 xGF% (+3.7 Rel)

It Comes With A Free Frogurt!

Once again, the Hawks’ European scouting turns up another useful player, if not an outright star. Kahun started the year on a line with Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat, and for a minute there they were lighting things up. Kahun has a couple of beauty assists and certainly helped Toews with the dirty work to keep possession for DeBrincat to do his thing. As the year went on and his lack of finish moved him down the lineup, Kahun continued to be an intelligent, diligent player who was rarely caught out of position. Kahun got hot at the turn of the year, putting up seven goals in January and February over 23 games, which would be a 25-goal pace over a full year. And hey, the Hawks had a dearth of players who actually drove possession, and Kahun was one of them.

The Frogurt Is Also Cursed

Again, some complaints about Kahun really have to do with his usage than the player himself. He was on the top six for most of the year, and he looks just short of being that. He flattened out in the season’s last five weeks, probably due to playing more games and heavier travel than he’s used to. For as smart as Kahun appeared to be, he got very little penalty kill time, though the unit could have used all the help it could get. Kahun did get his fair share of power play time, because there wasn’t really anyone else on the second unit, and that went about as well as you’d expect. For the chances he got, you’d like to see Kahun bury a few more than 13 of them. Maybe that will come. Whereas Kahun does a fair number of things well, you wouldn’t suggest he excels at any portion of the game. He’s got decent skill, but nowhere near game-breaking stuff. Decent vision, but not great. More finish. Pretty quick, not lightning. Still, the Hawks could do with a fair more of him on their bottom-six.

Can I Go Now?

No question Kahun has earned a role on this team, and you know this team will be good again–at least at forward–when he’s restricted to only bottom-six assignments. A checking line of Caggiula-Kampf-Kahun already appeals, especially if the Hawks could rig it to be the fourth line (though they’re someway short of that right now). Kahun is only 23, so his best days should be ahead of him, and after acclimating to the North American game and schedule he should be able to finish out a little better than he did this year. Kahun will also be on the last year of an entry-level deal, so he will have the added mojo of trying to play himself into a good contract the following year. In a world where you have to have top-market players and then value with your bottom-level payouts, Kahun definitely fits in the former. He’s not going to make or break your team but can be a hell of a support-beam if not asked to do too much.

Previous Player Reviews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Collin Delia

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Henri Jokiharju

Gustav Forsling

Erik Gustafsson

Carl Dahlstrom

Brendan Perlini

Alex DeBrincat

Chris Kunitz

Artem Anisimov

Marcus Kruger

Dylan Strome

Jonathan Toews

Brandon Saad

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

I had an argument with a musician friend a while back. He’s a touch on the hipster side. I told him I had just seen The Kills live. He asked, “What’s the deal with them?” I wasn’t sure what he meant. “Y’know, what’s the deal? What do they mean? What’s going on there?” Finally I told him that not every song or band has to have a deeper meaning or texture to them. Some things just rock or make you dance or make you feel good.

I’m fairly sure this seven-game winning streak doesn’t mean anything. You can’t give up 40+ shots to the Canucks and Red Wings and convince anyone you’re a team that anyone should locate a giveable fuck about. There’s probably an ugly market-correction coming. It could be next week for all we know, rendering all of March pointless. Or it could come later. Maybe it won’t come at all because hockey is dumb and weird.

But at the moment, it’s fun! It makes us feel good, at least most of us. It’s certainly more entertaining to watch. So I don’t want to stare at it too hard at the moment. That’s for another time. Because money, love, success, these things come and go. But wins over Detroit, those never get old.

Let’s do it…

The Two Obs

-I want to start with Dylan Strome. He was my subject on Friday, because if there’s a legitimate point to the rest of the season it’s that we want to see signs of what’s to come from new places. And at least in the first period, and flashes in the rest, Strome was making plays all over the ice. We’ve seen his presence in front of the net, we’ve seen a pretty lethal shot, but the last two games we’ve seen the vision that was the main billing when he was drafted. He only racked up two assists but on another day could have had four, and it’s that kind of playmaking that makes you really excited about what’s to come. He has the ability to make the pass/play that only few can see, or conjure something out of nothing. That’s 30 points in 32 games as a Hawk for him.

-Let’s stick with Strome, because the Wings second goal was another example of what’s not working for the Hawks’s defensively. And this isn’t to single out Strome. Niklas Jensen skates out of the corner along the boards toward the blue line with the puck, with Strome on him. But because Strome isn’t quick, Jensen gets a step. Kahun is covering the point-man, but sees that Strome is beat. But there’s no communication, so they neither switch not stick with their man, and Jensen has a path to the middle of the ice to find Gustav “That’s Good” Nyquist, and we get Cam Ward looking behind him.

There are a few sticking points for me. First of all, this shit is still happening and all it would involve is more communication. Second, Strome is always going to be hard up in some of these due to footspeed. If he were instructed to to play a little softer, keeping things to the outside, and not worry about trying to win a race, it would be fine. Jensen skating away from the net along the boards isn’t really a problem. It’s when you’re trying to apply high-pressure that it becomes so.

Under the old, more zonal system, when a player got beat and someone else had to cover for him, he knew the area he had to recover to. He didn’t have to worry about players moving around. He would have must moved to the point while Kahun dealt with Jensen. And it’s not just Strome, The Hawks just don’t have the speed to do what they’re being asked, because they’ll lose most of these races. It’s akin to someone getting broken down off the dribble in basketball. Someone has to help and then someone else is open and then it’s a mess.

The Hawks can’t go back now, but when it’s on the outside the Hawks can play a little more off, or softer, or more toward the middle, whatever term you want. They don’t need to chase to the boards, because they’re too slow anyway. Right now, any team with a modicum of talent and scouting knows that all they have to do is get possession down low, skate out toward the blue line, have the point-man crash down at the same time, and the Hawks are suddenly wasted and can’t find their way home.

-The only Hawks on the plus side of the possession-ledger were Erik Gustafsson and Slater Koekkoek. I said it didn’t make any sense.

-But hey, they won without scoring a power play goal. So that’s like, something.

-People, we have found a blue line worse than the Hawks’! Niklas Kronwall dies like four years ago and it’s just wonderful that the Wings are making noise about re-signing him. He’s 38, and in hockey years he’s 125. Dude got smoked by Dominik Kahun repeatedly.

-Speaking of Kahun, I think you’ll know the Hawks are ready to be good again when their third line is something like Caggiula-Kampf-Kahun. And he’d be a real weapon down there. Another effective European scouting. Maybe the Hawks should import their European scouts to the pro scouting staff.

Ok, that’s enough. Seven is better than six.

Everything Else

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

The Blackhawks were lucky this shitfest went to overtime. I am no Pullega so let’s just bullets it:

-The Blackhawks being beaten by a guy named Toews is kind of a hilarious cherry on top of this season, to me at least. Finally Hockey Twitter is right and a Toews was the downfall of the Hawks.

– So, Collin Delia might be an actual thing. Like I said, the Hawks were lucky they even got to overtime in this one, and it was solely on the play of Delia that they got there. He stopped 47 of 50 total shots and was locked in the whole time, save for some slight rebound control issues early on that aren’t exactly surprising given this is his fifth career NHL game. He’s been aces for them and might just end up fucking up the quasi-tank they have going on here. But given the status of Crawford, if he proves to be a franchise goalie, that’s way more important than Jack Hughes would be so it’d be fine. Moving forward there is no reason he shouldn’t be started every game that isn’t a back-to-back, and since the Hawks have just one of those in a light January before the bye week at the end of the month, he needs to be between the pipes this whole month so we really see what we have here.

– I have been very wary of giving up on Gustav Forsling, in large part because I felt like I really saw something in him that proved he could be a good defenseman in the NHL. He has the smooth skating stride, the puck control, the passing that you want to see from a mobile defenseman. The problem is he can’t for the life of him put it all together, and I don’t think they ever taught him what defense actually looks like in Sweden. He has been downright bad for a while now and I have finally come to grips with it. At this point the best case is maybe that you find a team willing to gamble on his upside.

Side note – based on the reports I’m hearing from the WJC and some of the earlier scouting reports, I might be starting to be a little worried about if Adam Boqvist is actually gonna be able to play defense, or if he’ll just be Forsling with better tools.

– The Jonathan Toews “Fuck You Tour” continued tonight, as even in a game in which the Hawks got shitpumped and skull-fucked simultaneously in the possession game with a hilariously bad “are you sure you even tried” 36.89 CF%, Toews dominated to the tune of an individual CF% of 60. Brandon Saad and Dominic Kahun were flanking him and were the only other two Hawks above 50%, with 58.64 and 54.55 respectively. That’s a dominant night from that line that basically went for naught, save for Kahun getting the opening goal of the game.

– Speaking of “Fuck You” tours, this time of a different variety, Duncan Keith was ass again tonight with a 37.14 CF%. I’m sad but also tired of it.

– I had the national NBCSN feed streaming on my computer, because for some reason NBCSN wanted to subject the nation to this monstrosity, but in the end it turned out that the real monstrosity was the broadcast. I don’t know who the announcers were for the broadcast, but they were boring as hell. One of them was a woman who’s analysis was good for the most part save for a few cheap praises of a Hawks team that played like utter garbage, but even with that they were not exciting at all. It also sounded like Nassau Coliseum was dead. And then in the intermission reports, Kathryn Tappen (who is normally very good) butchered Delia’s name to an extent that I did not think could be possible, though I can’t exactly blame her because he’s a relative unknown and she’s on the national level so she probably learned his name today. Then Roenick had the audacity in the postgame to say the Hawks played “good tight defense” and that’s why Delia was able to keep them in it, and I was done. I need to go back to the Mute Lounge.

– GO BEARS BITCH.

Everything Else

As we continue with this mini-half-season-review, when you have a lost season on your hands the main thing you want to do is find hope for the future. That means what are your young players doing, and what does it look like they’ll be doing when the games might matter again, if anything.

The main one for this season, or at least the most intriguing, is Henri Jokiharju. He’s not here right now because the Hawks couldn’t count and have an even harder time scouting their own talent, but we’ll leave that aside for now. Quick were the masses to heap praise on The HarJu, I assume for not shitting himself in public. I’m more tempted to give him an incomplete. That’s not to say I think he’s been bad or needs to go to Rockford or something, because I don’t. But there needs to be more and some major steps taken.

Jokiharju has been given some tough obstacles to start his NHL career. He’s on a team flailing in the wind most nights. He was put with a partner who simply refused to adjust his own game to help the rookie’s, meaning Jokiharju is cleaning up a lot of messes that he’s just not physically ready for (strangely, Keith has been content to let Erik Gustafsson play the cowboy and be the free safety for him). And the goalies haven’t bailed him out as much as you’d hope, which can only put him more on edge. He’s had to learn two different defensive systems in the first few months of his pro career.

So partly because of all that, we’ve seen very little of the offensive game we know the Finn has. In brief flashes, we’ve seen an ability to get a shot through traffic and a keen passing eye. There is a calmness with the puck at times that belies his age. When given the chance, he does make a solid first pass, and really should be given license to do that more often with passes that go out of the zone instead of just shuffling it up to a covered forward on the boards. But there hasn’t been enough of it yet.

Jokiharju also doesn’t seem to have game-breaking speed, like future teammate Adam Boqvist already possesses. He’s not slow, but he’s not getting away from anyone yet either. Again, some of this is due to the complicated situations he finds himself in, but that’s going to have to improve a touch. He gets snowed under a lot. He needs time with Paul Goodman and a squat rack. And he probably needs a new partner when he returns from the WJC.

I don’t know if we should even include Alex DeBrincat on this list anymore, given what we already know about him. Still, it’s always fun to point out that in a preseason “Scouts’ Take” piece by The Athletic’s Scott Powers, one said Top Cat would never be more than a 25-goal guy. He’s currently on pace for a 34-32-66 season, and that’s with a fair amount of time playing on a third line. If he ever gets full-time, top-six minutes, there’s no telling where this could go.

We didn’t know we’d be writing about Dylan Strome when the season started, but it is a strange old world, indeed. Strome has looked sluggish at times, but not nearly the drunken sloth the Coyotes tried to paint him out to be after giving up on him just 50 games into his NHL career. He’s been more scorer than playmaker during his time here, but that can happen when Patrick Kane is doing most of the latter. That still portends to good things when Strome is getting to the areas to score, whatever the labels of his skating. He’s helped make the power play look competent, not only by playing the role of “Annette Frontpresence,” but being able to do more than just be an obelisk there and rotating to other spots, even the point. The hope in the back half of the season is that he’ll show more of the vision that got him taken 3rd overall in the first place. If that happens, the Hawks might have a gem on their hands here.

Dominik Kahun has spent a majority of the season on the top line, which he can’t possibly have dreamed of ever happening. He hasn’t looked totally out of place there, but it’s clear his NHL future is of a bottom-six weapon. Which is a good thing to have around, of course. He’s got some skill, and instinct at both ends. You could see him being a poor man’s Michael Frolik one day, though with slightly better finish, we can hope. He’s not a team-changer, but he looks to be a nice complimentary piece. You could envision him and David Kampf combining one day soon to be a hell of a third line.

Dylan Sikura has only been up for eight games so far, but I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised. We basically wrote him off when he didn’t make the team out of camp after all the pub the team gave him, and last year’s quick stint didn’t show much either. He’s gotten the sweetheart shifts on a third line, but hey, that’s ok at this point. Though he hasn’t scratched goal-wise yet, his metrics are very clean-looking and he’s shown the confidence to show some dash to his game at points. Having Top Cat on the other side for most of his stay certainly didn’t hurt. Don’t know if he’s a piece yet or not, but he’s certainly earned a “Want To See More Of” label in his second go-round in the big time.

Those are the ones worth talking about.

Everything Else

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

After a piss-poor first, the Hawks piled on the offensively anemic Wild in the final 40. By all the metrics except the score and the save percentage, the Hawks had no business winning this game. Good thing they don’t let us fuckin’ nerds make the rules. To the bullets!

– Forty-six saves on 48 shots. Collin Delia had himself a hell of a night tonight. The Wild needed a man advantage to score both of their goals, and neither of them were his fault (they were Seabrook’s. More on that later.). The only real knock against him was his rebound control, especially early on, but he kept it clean when it mattered most. There’s no reason outside of injury or diarrhea that should keep Delia from starting Saturday, and unless he gets completely domed, he should also start the Winter Classic, if not for performance than because it would be a sin against God and the Irish not to start a guy who spells his name the brogueish “Collin” at Notre Dame. Again, 46 saves on 48 shots, and both goals required a man advantage.

– Kane got his hat trick, and man, that creep can roll. No one has evangelized for the Gustafsson–Kane connection harder than I have, and the reason was clear on Kane’s PP goal. It was a simple play—Toews wins the faceoff, Gus walks the line, Kane fires a one-timer short side—but it’s on the power play, which all of a sudden looks deadly.

Kane’s first goal was all him. When Gustafsson took the shot fake and skated around Kunin, I thought he had given himself a nice lane to take a decent shot. Then he fucking passed it. Normally, this would have been a bad pass and a missed opportunity. But Kane kicked the puck to his stick in traffic and flicked it by a porous and soon-to-be-pulled Devan Dubnyk. There are a handful of players who could have gotten a shot off on that pass, let alone scored, and Gus should thank his stars that Kane’s one of them.

Brandon Saad did a good deal of fucking tonight. His first goal took a bit of luck from Toews behind the net. After receiving a pass from Kahun—who himself was feisty tonight—Toews tried to thread one to Saad, and it ended up bouncing off of Zucker and straight to Saad. After last year’s unlucky debacle, it’s about time Saad got one to bounce his way here. His second goal came off a brilliant DeBrincat steal. With Stalock coming out of the goal to play the puck forward, DeBrincat batted his pass out of mid-air and swept it to a wide-open Saad, who sneezed it over the goal line. His 11+ CF% Rel was also best for third on the Hawks, behind Sikura and DeBrincat.

Dylan Strome had a ton of opportunities tonight that he just couldn’t cash in, but he was in all the right places. He’s got five points in his last two games, and one can only wonder how much more it could be if he had DeBrincat flanking him rather than Artie the Obelisk.

– It’s been a while since we’ve had to gripe about Brent Seabrook, mostly because Coach Cool Youth Pastor has hidden him as far away from meaningful time as possible. But tonight was different, though not necessarily by choice.

Seabrook was on the ice and out of position on both goals. On the first, the PK2 unit found itself stranded on the ice for 1:30. With about 15 seconds left, Granlund moved in on Seabrook at the far circle, forcing Seabrook to step up, which is not a phrase you want to hear outside of “Seabrook stepped up to cheer on Henri Jokiharju (FINLAND POINT) from the press box and got jalapeño stains on his suit.” Granlund then floated toward the top of the circle, opening up Seabrook on the inside, and hit Staal with a pass. Staal’s shot was blocked by Delia, but it allowed Staal and Parise time to set up behind the net. After playing catch, Staal swung behind the net for a wraparound, and Seabrook got caught between playing Staal behind the net and Parise in front. Seems like you’d want to cover the guy who’s in front of the net rather than behind it, but Seabrook’s hesitation allowed Staal to take the wraparound and Parise to sweep in the rebound.

On the second, Seabrook managed to screen his own goaltender and vacate the spot from which Staal scored. This one was a bit more excusable, given how quickly the play developed, but still not great. There’s not much we can do about it other than grumble, but when Seabrook and Keith were together, they got overwhelmed. No more of that.

Dominik Kahun was active all night, even though the stats show paltry evidence of it, aside from his secondary assist on Saad’s first goal. His best play of the night came about halfway through the second. Carl Dahlstrom broke on a rush, only to have the Hawks turn it over in the neutral zone. Murphy gummed up a 2-on-1, giving Kahun time to get back and lift Staal’s stick as he wound up for a pass from Zucker. It would have been a hard shot for Delia to stop, and Kahun prevented it all with strong stick work.

David Kampf was good on the PK tonight, logging just over four minutes. He was on the ice for the Wild’s not-really-a PP goal, but aside from that, he battened down the hatches. If he had just a bit of scoring touch, he probably would have had a goal too, as Kane hit him with a smooth drop pass (the good kind) and left him with a wide-open shot that Stalock denied.

– Though it’s a minor gripe, I’d like to see Sikura and Perlini switch back up. Neither was particularly noticeable tonight in their respective spots. It didn’t hurt, but it also didn’t help.

– Toews got his 400th assist tonight. Good on him. If anyone deserves a statue, it’s Toews.

In the first time in about 10,000 days, the Hawks had the tools to win a post-Christmas-break game. They’ll travel back to my backyard on Saturday, where the only excuse Colliton will have for not starting Delia will be because he ate the fattest edible known to man and took advice from drunk Patrick Roy. The Hawks are on a bit of a roll now, and if the shit fits, wear it.

Booze du Jour: Tin Cup

Line of the Night: “Have to get Forsling and Seabrook off the ice. They’re out of gas.” Eddie O., saying what we’re all saying.

Everything Else

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

Don’t look now, but the Hawks have put together two quality games. It sure is nice to watch the Hawks plunge the knife every once in a while. Let’s do the bullets.

– This may have been the best game Erik Gustafsson has played as a Blackhawk. He started 15 seconds in, keeping a puck that squeaked by Ward from farting across the goal line. That’s the kind of goal that’s been typical of the Hawks of late (and Ward when he’s gotten his chances in the crease), so having Gustafsson tidy it up early was absolutely necessary.

From there, Gustafsson was a force, plowing home a PP goal, setting up Kane’s empty-net backbreaker with a stretch pass from his own zone, and looking downright responsible in his own end. Though his CF% was 44+, when adjusting for score and venue, it sat just north of 50%. Given that he and Keith were on the ice for 24 minutes apiece and played primarily against the Klingberg–Benn–Seguin trifecta, you’ll take that every day. If this is the kind of game Gustafsson can play with any regularity, he could be a second-pairing guy with fringe first-pairing potential. There’s still a long way to go, but you love to see games like this. The offensive potential is there, and it throbs when it wants to.

– Let’s talk about that PP goal. Fifth Feather often says that it’s movement rather than Annette Frontpresence that leads to the best scoring opportunities, and the PP was a perfect example.

The Hawks were set in a 1–3–1, with Strome in front of the net; Gustafsson at the point; and Top Cat, Toews, and Kane going left to right. Rather than handing the puck off to Kane and having all four guys watch him stick handle, the Hawks elected to let Gus take the lead. With Toews roaming around in the mid-slot and acting as a dual retriever/safety valve, Gus, Top Cat, and Kane had more room to play a triangle passing scheme. Kane also had the freedom to skate on either side, with Top Cat and Gus rotating to fill, and that strategy is what led to the goal. With Faska missing his stick, Kane broke the script and skated around him to DeBrincat’s spot on the far-board circle. DeBrincat cycled to the point and Gus dropped lower toward the circle on the near boards as the Stars defense sagged, leaving DeBrincat and Gus all the space in the world to play catch and open a lane. Once Gus got the return pass, he had all the time and space in the world, and it was because the Stars had to keep an eye on Toews in the middle and Kane wherever Kane decided to be.

Sure, Strome was in front screening, but the movement on that PP was something I haven’t seen from the Hawks in a long, long time. It was simply gorgeous.

Patrick Kane was spry tonight. His backhander in the second was special, and his skating and vision set up the PP goal. That creep can roll.

Cam Ward had himself a nice game. Sure, he did something you don’t often see—whiffing on covering the puck with his glove, leading to the Stars’s second goal—and he looked stabby and gooey at times, but he made several high-danger saves too. The defense wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in front of him tonight, which certainly helps.

– I’m not going to be too hard on Carl Dahlstrom, given that he’s been thrown into the deep end. But he probably could have done more to prevent the Stars’s first goal. He got beaten both to and off the puck by a streaking Gurianov, even though it looked like Dahlstrom had a better angle as the play was developing. He then overcommitted trying to stop Benn’s pass after Benn cut back behind the net, leaving Seguin all the room in the world. Although the real culprit on this goal is the Fels Motherfuck, because saying Seguin couldn’t throw a grape in the ocean in the preview was just begging for him to score.

– It mostly worked out tonight, but I’m still baffled that Artem Anisimov gets to play with Strome and Kane. Granted, his pass from the near boards to set up Kane’s goal early in the second was nice. But after that? In the lead up to Seguin’s goal, Strome and Anisimov had a 2-on-1 developing. Watching Anisimov and Strome try to execute a 2-on-1 is like watching slugs fuck. Strome just kept waiting for Anisimov to beat his man, and he may as well have tried to light water on fire. Strome probably should have taken that shot, but you know who would have made it to the spot he needed to be at? Alex DeBrincat, who continues to prove he isn’t a third liner.

– Which means that of course DeBrincat scored on the third line. Credit to Kampf for getting enough of the puck on the faceoff to give Sikura a chance to complete the set play, dropping the puck onto a waiting DeBrincat’s stick and past THE BISHOP! Though the fancy stats don’t do DeBrincat justice, he had a few good takeaways to go with a few bad giveaways. All in all, a definitely-not-a-third-liner performance.

– I’m not sure what Dominik Kahun is, but it doesn’t look like he’s bad. He led the Hawks with a 56 CF% on the night. He, Toews, and Saad clicked well tonight. Brandon Saad was a force in the first and good throughout as well. And of course, Toews’s renaissance continues. The Hawks may not have a ton going for them right now, but the top line looks legit.

– Our sweet Irish son was having himself an alright game before Tyler “I completely deserve my last name” Pitlick took a page out of the Tom Wilson Being a Horse’s Ass for Dummies book and drove his elbow directly into his mush. With all the blood spilling on the ice, it looked to be a broken nose, and in a best-case scenario, that’s all it will be. Like Gustafsson, Murphy’s raw CF% wasn’t great (44+), but adjusted for score and venue, it was a robust 51+ despite facing mostly Benn, Seguin, and Klingberg. Small sample sizes be damned: Murphy has been the best Hawks D-man overall, and they can’t afford for him to miss more time.

What’s baffling is that Pitlick didn’t get a call on his cheap shot. He had more than enough time to adjust to the play, which happened smack dab in the middle of the ice as the Stars were starting a breakaway. That the refs missed the call was nearly as egregious as Pitlick’s outright assclownery. Pitlick saw Murphy over his shoulder and drove his elbow into his head anyway. What a dickhead. I hope he has a bad Christmas.

Brendan Perlini continued his tour de force of being really fast and having no finish. Still, you like his straight-ahead speed, which is obscene at times. THE BISHOP! did a fine job of stuffing him twice on a breakaway midway through the first, but Perlini got his, potting the final empty netter and icing the game.

Gustav Forsling looked fine tonight. If he can continue to look fine, that would be OK with us.

Two wins in a row feels nice, especially since the Hawks haven’t looked overmatched for the most part. Tomorrow will be a true test against the nightmare that is the Avalanche. Collin Delia would do well to smoke ‘em if he’s got ‘em, because it’s not going to get much tougher than what he’s going to see tomorrow.

But tonight, we said we were hungry and they gave us meat. Get down, make love.

Beer du Jour: Miller High Life

Line of the Night: “Hawks Win!” – Pat Foley with a minute left

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

We all whined and moaned about how the Hawks didn’t give us enough hockey last year. They’re making us whole now, with their fourth straight OT game and point. Let’s kick it.

– Reports of Jonathan Toews’s death were wildly exaggerated. As he’s been wont to do this year, Toews took the bull by the balls in the first period and looked like the kind of guy they build statues for. His assist on the first goal was one of the first times we’ve gotten to see the kind of Old Man Strength Marian Hossa used to put on display, and it looked good on The Captain. His awareness and speed gobbling up the rebound on Top Cat’s blocked shot and passing off to DA BIG KAHUNA gave him his second point of the night. You’d think that he can’t do this all year, but barring injury, I don’t know that there’s any reason he can’t. He’s playing like he has something to prove, and we should relish it.

– Congrats to Dominik Kahun on his first NHL goal. It’s hard enough to get one over the shoulder from the angle he had on it, and it’s doubly hard when the goaltender is an actual giant, but he kept his cool throughout. Kahun has impressed so far on the top line, and he led all Blackhawks with a 56+ CF%. It’s still too early to tell whether this is going to be a thing going forward, but Da Big Kahuna has handled the pressure as well as you can ask.

– Thank Christ Alex DeBrincat is 5’7”. For all the guys who have ever had a really nice girl lie to them about how size doesn’t matter, you now have someone tangible to point to. His one timer on the PP was gorgeous, but perhaps even more impressive was how stout he was with the puck. Since coming up last year, DeBrincat has had a penchant for either not turning the puck over, or, on the rare occasion that he does, turning around and picking it right back up. It’s one of the less talked about aspects of his game, but DeBrincat’s ability to cause turnovers is sometimes otherworldly. Motherfucker is special and can probably score 40 goals with Toews this year.

– One last totally positive note: Nick Schmaltz’s stickhandling was divine tonight. The fancy stats won’t back it up, but Schmaltz was everywhere. Late in the first, Schmaltz walked the blue line through Jan Rutta after Rutta’s puck allergy flared up, which turned into a one timer for Schmaltz after he passed it off to Patrick Kane, who mostly couldn’t be bothered tonight. Schmaltz also had an A+ chance in the second on the PP, but got stuffed by Devan Dubnyk and his stupidly spelled name. And in the OT, after looking like he was going to fumble the puck away, he managed to pry it back in the offensive zone at the end of his shift. He may not have had any tallies, but this was a good-looking game for him.

– It’s hard to blame Cam Ward for tonight. The Hawks posted a fucking 39+ CF% on the night. That’s really hard to do. The first goal was the result of Jan Rutta having his legs cut out under him and a no call. The second resulted from a behind-the-net pass from Eric Staal, followed by Chris Kunitz pondering the great mysteries of life for the first and most inopportune time of his life. You can maybe give him some of the blame on the third goal, but again, it’s hard to get mad at a goalie for giving up a goal that started from behind the net. Cam Ward should never have to face 40+ shots, but given that he did, he did much better than anyone could have predicted.

Brandon Saad was a little more noticeable for the right reasons tonight. He had at least two high-quality chances that he couldn’t pot, and his possession numbers were garbage (38+ CF%), but there was a little more life to him.

–  Henri Jokiharju. We love him. He’s going to be excellent. He was excellent tonight, relatively speaking, and flashed a ton of confidence throughout most of the game. He’s probably going to be looked at as the at-fault defenseman on the Wild’s game-tying goal on the short hand, but this is the kind of stuff we’ve been warning people about. He’s 19, so he’s going to get overpowered at times. You take the bad with all the good.

– If we’re going to be subjected to Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta, tonight is probably the best example of how to turn shit into a shingle. They played strictly as a third pairing, and neither of them made any horribly egregious errors (other than, you know, playing professional hockey instead of working a 9–5. BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED). As much as I want to fault Manning for skating too far up on the wrong side of the ice in an attempt to clear right before the Wild’s first goal, if Rutta gets the tripping call he deserved, it’s a load of nothing.

If anyone had told you the Hawks would capture six of their first eight points, you’d ask for a dose of whatever they were taking. It looks like this team is going to be exciting if nothing else.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: Miller High Life

Line of the Night: “I thought that pass was purrrrrrfect to The Cat.” –Eddie O. on Top Cat’s PP goal.